What do sugar cravings mean?

That 3pm cookie craving could actually point to a serious health issue. This is what you need to know. 

Despite the endless health campaigns to encourage us to cut back, sugar still makes up a third of our calorie intake. This is deeply worrying, say experts, who are increasingly concerned that our bodies were not designed to take such a sugar overload, and fear it is contributing to many modern ills, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

The problem is that sugar is highly addictive, as study after study has shown. Researchers at Yale University revealed that dramatic falls in blood sugar, which occur after eating “bad” carbohydrates such as sweets and biscuits, affect the part of the brain controlling impulse. This leads to a loss of self control and a subsequent craving for more unhealthy, high-calorie foods.

The researchers said this could help explain today’s global obesity epidemic.

Meanwhile, Robert Lustig, a leading US obesity expert, has gone further – he believes sugar is an addictive toxin and should be regulated in the same way as cigarettes.

But as well as causing health problems, could an addiction to sugar be a sign of an underlying health condition? That’s the suggestion being made by Dr Jacob Teitelbaum in his book, Beat Sugar Addiction Now!

He describes sugar addiction as the “canary in the coal mine,” saying it often points to an undiagnosed problem such as failing adrenal glands (which sit above the kidneys and pump out hormones) or even too much “bad” bacteria in the gut.

Dr Teitelbaum has identified four types of sugar addiction. He says they are triggered by different causes, from hormonal changes to infections. According to the type that best describes you, he suggests a specific action plan to tackle the problem.

Here are the four types – which one is most like you?

Thyroid failure

The signs: You’re stressed, tired and craving sweets through the day – all signs that indicate an underactive thyroid gland, which leads to fatigue. Tension in the muscles – which are also not getting the energy they need to function – can cause frequent headaches.

The solution: Drink more water to help flush your system. Cut back from caffeine, until you are on one cup a day, then switch to herbal teas. Ban processed food and switch wholefoods such as brown bread, rice and pasta, which take longer for the body to digest, keeping blood sugar levels stable. Getting more sleep optimises energy levels, reduces appetite and slashes sugar cravings. When you are tired, you are more likely to crave sugar to generate energy artificially.

Yeast infection

The signs: Cannot get through the day without bread or sugar. Have had more than your fair share of antibiotics or antacids, which could have triggered an overgrowth of bad bacteria.

Antibiotics kill “good” bacteria in the gut, while antacids neutralise the stomach acid that normally tackles bad bacteria. Dr Teitelbaum claims the yeast over-population feeds on sugar. It triggers cravings for sugar and bread because the body quickly converts these to glucose.

Eating sugar makes the yeast multiply, thus intensifying cravings and creating a vicious circle. Steroids and stress, which increase your body’s secretion of the hormone cortisol, can suppress your immune system, allowing yeast to run wild, making sugar cravings constant.

The solution: Cut back on all forms of sugar, as well as caffeine, and switch to a low-GI diet. Take a probiotic supplement or yoghurt (twice a day for five months) to support a healthy gut.

Adrenaline overload

The signs: Irritable when hungry, often feel stressed or dizzy when standing. Suffer frequently from a sore throat and may often be thirsty and have to urinate frequently.

The problem: You could be suffering from adrenal overload. Adrenal glands pump out the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol when we’re under pressure. When under constant pressure, these glands can become sluggish, so we often turn to sugar for a short burst of energy.

The solution: Graze on small, high-protein meals throughout the day nuts, cheese or eggs). This should keep energy levels steady, making it easier to cut back on sugar. Try to reduce stress levels too.

Menopause or PMT

The signs: Experience low mood and reduced sex drive, with irregular or changing periods. The week before it starts you experience insomnia, headaches, fatigue and hot flushes.

The problem: You may be experiencing menopause, perimenopause (the lead-up to the menopause) or PMT. As levels of oestrogen and progesterone drop, women become more prone to insulin resistance. This can cause sugar cravings to soar, leaving you tired and irritable. As hormone levels change, the body attempts to raise levels of the feel-good hormone serotonin, and since sugar triggers a serotonin release, this can cause you to crave sweet things.

The solution: Cut down on sugar as much as possible. If you suffer from premenstrual tension, try taking vitamin B6 (200mg a day). This helps ease the deficiency of the “feel good” hormone prostaglandin E1 (when this hormone is low, irritability and sugar cravings can result).

If mood swings are a problem, it could be from excess sugar thats blocking your ability to turn a substance called GLA (gamma linoleic acid) into the DGLA (dihomo-gamma-linoleic acid) needed to produce prostaglandins that improve mood. Cutting out sugar allows your body to make prostaglandin more effectively.

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Zac Zacharia (Managing Director) has been assisting clients to create wealth and secure their futures for over 14 years.

He is also an accomplished presenter and educator

Co-authoring the popular investment book, Property vs Shares.